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Return to Work

Challenges of returning to work after long-term absence

Is your organization preparing to welcome some portion of the workforce after a long-term absence? If yes, there are some key points that you need to keep in mind to support an effective return to work.

Research at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), UK, shows that personnel return after a long absence can be made safe and productive through proper planning. This is feasible if returnees are provided with support, both, during their absence and on their return to work.

No ‘magic’ approach addresses all the challenges of the returning employees. Having the proper support in place helps ease the transition back to work.

Everyone needs to contribute to the return-to-work effort – returning personnel need to prioritize the management of their work and health, line managers need to help with the return-to-work processes, and the HR/leadership teams can help by ensuring that flexible and understanding absence/return management policies are in place.  

The CIPD’s Health and Wellbeing at Work report of 2021, found that mental ill-health (depression, anxiety), medical infirmities, and stress are the most common causes for the long-term absence of personnel. Good absence management practices help to return employees, am Covid-19 imposed lockdown, ease into working confidently and productively.

What can HR teams do?

1-HR teams should facilitate a fair and well-supported return for the employees after a long absence. This will help prevent the possibility of any claims being raised on the grounds of unfair termination or discrimination. Any such claims on the organization can cause avoidable work, added stress, and added cost.

2-The more extended the absence, the more difficult it is to return and the more significant the role of HR in designing supportive return-to-work policies. HR teams need to keep a watchful eye to balance workloads across the organization caused by the absence of some employees. Failure to do so would adversely affect employee motivation, employee engagement, and general wellbeing.

How can everyone contribute?

1-Returning individuals can share in the effort by taking responsibility for their health and work and working collaboratively with the HR teams. Returnees would do well to remember the wise counsel of an anonymous advisor, “If you take a moment to think of the scores of unemployed people in the world desperately looking for jobs, you’d feel privileged and blessed to be back at work. Never stop appreciating the things you have been blessed with.”

2-Colleagues can help by staying connected, offering understanding support, and providing honest feedback. All of this reduces the chances of misunderstanding and uncertainty in the returning employees.

3-Line managers have a crucial role to play. They can help returnees with helpful work adjustments, ease their anxiety and vulnerability by maintaining open channels of communication, providing required guidance, handling any conflicts, and creating an open, fair, and welcoming work environment.

4-Senior leaders in the organization can ease the challenges of managing the return-to-work by providing supportive policies, reducing uncertainty, and facilitating required specialist support.

Why is it important?

1-A return-to-work effort that is supportive and managed well can make an enormous difference to the effectiveness of the returning employees. A poorly managed process could result in a relapse of the absence and cause the employees to exit the workplace in extreme cases.

2-A poorly managed return affects everyone – the employee, colleagues, and the organization as a whole through increased costs of managing adverse consequences.

Returning to work after a long absence can be challenging for employees, managers, and the organization. The return-to-work can be made efficient with no or minimal loss of productivity through proper employee support during the absence and on their return. The return-to-work process, to be successful, should be flexible, compassionate, and accommodative of individual needs.

Specialized HR services firms such as YOMA provide expert staffing and HR services. YOMA’s services include helping organizations manage the challenges of helping their employees return to work after a long absence. YOMA is a part of the BYLD group that specializes in leadership development and assessment services.


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